The news that Major League Baseball is thinking of expanding instant replay isn’t good news for a sport that is desperately trying to find some positives during a distracted 2013 season. The proposal has received support from both managers and players and will require 75% approval among owners, and the umpires and players unions have apparently been receptive to the idea. While the PED use has threatened the purity of the game for years, this well-intentioned proposal is also a threat to the great American pastime for several reasons. It is going to slow down a game that is already averaging close to three hours. Sure, you say football, is three hours. But that’s 16 times a year—not 160 times a year plus multiple postseason series. If you love baseball, which we do, the sport should focus on fan relations and enforcing some of the time rules that are on the books.
Some details of the proposal are as follows—managers would be allowed to challenge three calls per game; one in the first six innings and two more in final three innings. Currently, only home runs calls are reviewable. We know that in 2014 the list of reviewable calls will expand but baseball hasn’t said which yet. John Schuerholtz, Atlanta Braves President and leader of the committee that championed the instant replay expansion, has maintained that 89% of all calls will now be reviewable under the new plan. Also, challenged calls won’t be reviewed by on-site umpires like football, but rather at MLB offices in New York. Imagine; big time, late-game calls in an Oakland-Seattle game could feel like Darth Vader remote-patrolling an unimportant satellite planet. What is baseball really saying by relieving on-site umpires of this duty? Even football trusts the guys that are on hand to get these calls right after looking at them really, really slow and up close. It does feel like the MLB brass want to shield their umps from the criticism of missing calls on site; so really what is the improvement there? Can’t the crew chief huddle with his crew and get the call right quickly?
Football has instant replay, and the umps still miss calls depending on which fan base you ask. In football, the broadcasters love to put up the graphic stating how successful each coach is challenging calls. Imagine that in baseball. Fans still complain, not about the ump’s blown call, but the replay official’s call — you can’t eliminate the human element of error from any game. Also when was the last time an NFL instant replay call was quick? Even minor calls in football take forever with multiple angles to be reviewed by the guys in the booth? Just like in football, when managers/coaches run out of challenges, bad calls will still happen. Game deciding bad calls will still happen inevitably in late innings. The human element can’t be regulated.
One major reason expanded instant replay is bad for the game is that it will inevitably slow the game down. The game needs to be quicker, not slower. Baseball has a bevy of built in time-wasters. Just watch a Red Sox/Yankees game once to know that the last thing this sport needs is a system that allows managers to challenge everything besides balls and strikes. It’s a long game with all the wiggling, adjusting, glove checks, stepping in and stepping out. And that’s just the hitters. The pitchers can take eternities between deliveries and all their accompanying movements. None of which are actually part of the game.
Ultimately since commercials aren’t going to be shortened because owners, not you and me (baseball fans), directly profit off the advertising so we’re stuck holding the bag on this one. The powers that be have figured as much, that we are willing to increase our time in front of the tube. Maybe this won’t be the case — perhaps as Schuerholtz says, it will actually speed up the game — but I wouldn’t bet on it. The silver lining is that the rules for 2014 may not inherently be the rules for 2015. What we really need is a reduction in all the time-wasters.